James and Hayley Baillie of Baillie Lodges, the owners of Southern Ocean Lodges, have published this heartfelt message about the sad loss of Southern Ocean Lodge:
As you may have seen in the extensive media coverage shared around the globe over the past few days, we are devastated to report that our flagship property Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island has been destroyed in the bushfires that spread with speed and ferocity across the western end of the island on Friday, January 3.
Fortunately, all the guests and our staff are safe, which is the main thing. We owe a huge debt of thanks to our amazing team at Southern Ocean Lodge, led by lodge managers John Hird and Alison Heath and their team who together did such an incredible job managing the escalating situation so quickly and effectively. We are also tremendously grateful to the South Australia Country Fire Service whose crews and volunteers worked so hard to protect lives and landscape.
Buildings, furniture and fixtures can all be replaced; our incredible lodge team cannot and we are truly grateful for this silver lining. Our current focus is on relocating our team and helping them find jobs – ideally within the Baillie Lodges family and the wider Luxury Lodges of Australia collection. We’ve also had a number of other tourism businesses approach us to offer our staff jobs, a real marker of the generosity of the Australian hospitality industry.
In reality, this is a very emotional time for us all, and we’ve shed many tears over the past few days for the loss of a dream realised and a life’s work for us. It’s hard not to remember the very first time we set foot on the site on Kangaroo Island’s wildly beautiful southwest coast with our baby son Finn and envisioned a luxury lodge that would offer an experience of the island to guests from Australia and around the world.
We’re very conscious that at this moment of loss, it’s not all about us at Southern Ocean Lodge, but about the KI community as a whole, which has suffered losses as a result of the bushfires which reached around 40% of the island. Southern Ocean Lodge worked closely with many small businesses on KI – from the gin distillers at KI Spirits and Southrock Lamb to the students at the Parndana School – and each made the experience of Kangaroo Island a genuinely memorable one for our guests. We owe our long-time friend and ‘honey man’ Peter Davis a huge thanks for the early fire warning advice on Friday morning. Our colleague and good friend Craig Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island was instrumental in the lodge realisation and has shown many guests the very best of the island in the ensuing 12 years. It’s a real honour to be part of this tight-knit, resilient community.
We are immediately committed to rebuilding the lodge, and to taking a leading role in whatever ways we can to help rebuild the tourism industry on Kangaroo Island. We have already taken architect Max Pritchard to revisit the site, and happily, the original plans for the lodge are still intact. While it’s currently too early to estimate a date for re-opening we’d like to reassure everyone that the recreation of Southern Ocean Lodge is our next focus.
We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and well wishes over the past few days which has made this difficult time more bearable for us all. We’ve also received many requests about ways to support Southern Ocean Lodge. Whilst this is a terrible time in our history, we also consider ourselves very fortunate that we are able to provide assistance and support for our wonderful team, together with our partners at KSL Capital.
There are many small businesses on KI which depend on tourism for their livelihood, and island residents who have lost their homes. To immediately assist the community we have matched a personal contribution with that of Southern Ocean Lodge to a number of organisations to a total of $100,000, including the KI Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund and the South Australian Country Fire Service.
Many are also concerned about the plight of the native wildlife which is so prolific on Kangaroo Island. The KI Wildlife Network is a not-for-profit sanctuary currently taking in wildlife from across the island, where a group of dedicated volunteers tend to injured and orphaned animals, birds and reptiles.
Kangaroo Island is still very much open for business and with around 250,000 hectares in the east unaffected by fires, now is the time more than ever that the Kangaroo Island community needs support from visitors from Australia and overseas. Iconic attractions like Seal Bay, Raptor Domain and the KI Wildlife Park are all open as usual. Visitors can wander with seals, swim with dolphins, go quad biking and sand-duning, visit the wineries in Kingscote, Cygnet River and on the Dudley Peninsula or try freshly shucked oysters at American River. There are tastings of award-winning gin at KI Spirits, great dining at Sunset Food & Wine and awesome espresso at the Cactus Café.
Stepping back from the horrific footage of the bushfire crises in regional New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia this summer, the bigger picture is that we need now to rally together and present a positive picture of this incredible country and all it has to offer. Your generous, ongoing support for Australian tourism is vital for the industry’s future and for it to best recover from these challenging times. Whilst it might seem from footage that ‘Australia is on fire’, there are many parts of the country that are unaffected and a host of incredible destinations are ready to welcome visitors from here and around the world.
Of course, our own lodges – Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island, Longitude 131° at Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest are all far from any bushfire activity and are operating as normal. There are also many of the Luxury Lodges of Australia properties unaffected by the fires and ready to welcome you, these include The Louise in the Barossa Valley, Saffire in Tasmania, The Lake House in Victoria’s Daylesford, Cape Lodge in Western Australia, Queensland’s Spicers Peak Lodge as well as Lizard Island and qualia on the Great Barrier Reef.
Please join us in supporting Kangaroo Island as well as Australian tourism, and in our efforts to rebuild a remarkable destination that is resilient, exciting and offers even more unforgettable, genuine experiences for our guests in the future.
Thank you again for your support during these challenging times and cheers to the Southern Ocean Lodge spirit!